Category Archives: vocation

End of the World?

The end of the world evokes strong emotions. Current books and movies play on the theme that the culture/world/civilization that we know is ending and a new one is replacing it, usually more horrific than our current culture/world/civilization. The roots of the transformation are in our current society and will bear fruit in the coming years. The fear of global nuclear war spurred such writings from 1950s through the 1990s. The book and movie Hunger Games is a contemporary expression of such apocalypses and their aftermath.

Mark 13 is also an expression of apocalyptic literature. Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem for the Passover festival. Jesus would be arrested and executed by the Roman officials in a few days. Jesus warned the disciples of coming tribulation and devastation. The magnificent temple that was central to Jewish worship would be destroyed in less than forty years by the Roman Empire. The early Christians would face frequent persecution for their faith. These trials might cause the new church to despair, yet Jesus said, “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs” (Mark 13:8).

Birth pangs, though painful in the moment, result in the beginning of a new life. Jesus was teaching his disciples to persevere, to stay hopeful, in spite of the troubles they face. He then goes on to say that to speculate on the exact day or time of this new birth is wasteful use of time. “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son of Man, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). Instead he says to be engaged in our daily tasks with a watchful heart, that God is near. “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on watch” (Mark 13:34). God has given us each tasks to do in this world, to love our neighbor in word and deed. We do not abandon those tasks to run and hide on some mountain because we fear the “world” is ending. Rather we continue to serve God and God’s world, knowing that someday the master will return and put things right for all people.

Tomorrow I will explore how the “world” has already ended for Christians (Mark 13:35-36).

Lord Jesus, help me not to slip into despair, but to be faithful in my service.

Hospitals and Churches

I have been sitting at the hospital today, watching my mother as she recovers from a nasty fall.  Mostly she is sleeping and when she is awake, her dementia limits conversation.  Still I am thankful that I can simply be with her.

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Churches are often describes as hospitals for sinners.  I want to push the metaphor as I sit with my mom.

1.  The hospital staff cares:  they use my Mom’s name and explain what they are doing even though she has dementia.   Do the people of God show as much care for the stranger who visits?

2.  The staff knows their roles and strengths.  The Personal Care Assistant has a different role from the Nurse.   Do the people of God know their strengths and gifts?

3. The staff will push my mom at times.  The Physical Therapist had to challenge, cajole and push my Mom to stand and take a walk down the hall.  Are the people of God willing to challenge one another in compassion, generosity, and service?

There may be other lessons to be learned.  What do you think?

Lord Jesus, bring healing and hope to your people.

Remembering Dr. Kari Egge

Dr. Kari Egge was a saint, though she would never use such a title.  She lived her faith in her vocation.  Her death this week stirred all kinds of memories for me, since she was active in the high school youth group at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi when I first came on their staff. Kari’s brain was always working, asking deep questions that I could rarely answer.  Yet she had a passionate heart that saw the needs of the world. She went off to college at George Washington University and then into Humanitarian Aid work with such diverse organizations as the Peace Corp, Catholic Relief Services and the American Red Cross. She played key leadership roles in responding to various disaster’s world-wide from the drought in Southern Africa to the tsunami in Indonesia. She received her doctorate in Public Health from Tulane where she studied HIV/Aids and how to treat it in the developing parts of the world.

I remember one particular conversation with her when she was home visiting her parents. I had an idealistic view of her relief work, thinking how wonderful it must be to help people in need.

Her response brought me back to reality, “Much of what I do is simply handle the bureaucratic mess. I am often tired and overwhelmed; we are usually short of key supplies or personnel and the local government often restricts everything we try to do.”

“So, Kari, what keeps you going?”

“I am not sure, but often some good comes. Some people are helped . . . or lived who would have died. I sense God has a hand in that.”

Kari could have lived a very productive, meaningful life here in the United States. She had a sharp mind and wit, a fun spirit, and caring heart. Instead of staying here, she heeded the call to meet the critical needs of people in distant lands. She lived out Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves.

When she was diagnosed with terminal cancer she did not dwell on her approaching death (though she did make some rather grim jokes about it), but rather how it affect her two young children, Dylan and Isabelle. She loved them, her parents and the many friends she made around the world. I will miss her.

Lord Jesus, grant comfort to all who grieve the death of Kari Egge.  Thank you for her faithful witness of compassion.

Baptism Fire

Teaching confirmation last week, I told our students that Jesus’ baptism by John was not a sign of repentance of sin, but an ordination into ministry. Baptism is a multifaceted experience for Christians that needs to be lifted up in various ways for us to see the beauty and wonder of this gift from God.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes this about baptism connecting all God’s people together, both ordained and laity.

What we have in common is our baptism, that turning point in each of our lives when we were received into the household of God and charged to confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share in his eternal priesthood. That last phrase is crucial. Our baptism are our ordinations, the moments at which we are set apart as God’s people to share Christ’s ministry, whether or not we wear clerical collars around our necks. The instant we rise dripping from the waters of baptism and the sign of the cross is made upon our foreheads, we are marked as Christ’s own forever. (The Preaching Life, p. 30)

Our baptism is our call into ministry. We all have a place to serve in God’s family and God’s world. Through baptism, the Holy Spirit is placed within us to be a burning ember of power and life.  To discover our place can be a challenge in the free-market society we have. There are so many options from which to choose. Yet God has given the Holy Spirit to guide, nudge, empower, coax and affirm our direction in life. The community of faith and our inner voices become crucial in the discovery process.

Luther Seminary has a process called the Dependable Strengths Articulation Process which helps congregations and individuals discover their calling for daily life.  Resurrection Lutheran will be using this process on Saturday morning to help people discover how they can use their baptism fire for God’s glory.

Holy Spirit, ignite us with a passion to serve Jesus and his people.

“Do I Have To Go?”

Barbara Brown Taylor wrote a helpful book on preaching that extends way beyond preaching. Here is a section that she wrote regarding where we go when we follow Jesus.

Affirming the ministry of every baptized Christians is not an idea that appeals to many lay people today. It sounds like more work, and most of them have all the work they can do. It sounds like more responsibility, while most of them are staggering under loads that are already too heavy. I will never forget the woman who listened to my speech on the ministry of the laity as God’s best hope for the world and said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be that important.”

Like many of those who sit beside her at church, she hears the invitation to ministry as an invitation to do more —to lead the every member canvas, or cook supper for the homeless, or teach vacation church school. Or she hears the invitation to ministry as an invitation to be more—to be more generous, more loving, more religious. No one has ever introduced to the idea that her ministry might involve being just who she already is and doing what she already does, with one difference: namely that she understands herself to be God’s person in and for the world. (The Preaching Life, p.27-28)

I totally agree with Barbara that our ministry is our daily activities and relationships, but lived with the identity of being a child of God. God has placed each of us in our unique settings to be God’s agent, God’s hands, feet, heart and voice in God’s world. We don’t need to travel to a distant land to do “mission” work, we do “mission” work in our homes, offices, schools, and community as we interact with others. A “mission” trip may help us to see the needs of God’s world and to discover our dependable strengths and gifts to meet those needs. It may strengthen our relationship with God and others, but mission can happen wherever we are.

Lord Jesus, let me rediscover my mission in you today.

A Thanksgiving Story

Thanksgiving seems like an odd holiday to me. After all shouldn’t we be thankful every day? Why give this virtue a special holiday? We don’t set aside a holiday for patience, joy, peace, kindness or hope. (We might consider Valentine’s Day as the special “love” day, but that is a blog unto itself). Still a thanksgiving story seems appropriate.

In the 1930s, George Strester remembers his father who tried farming in Nebraska in 1873. Thanksgiving was approaching and the family had a tough harvest due to the dry and dusty summer. They wanted to give thanks, but the pantry was nearly bare, so George’s father decided to butcher the cow. It had become nice and fat from eating a variety of vegetables, including some rotten onions, but had gone dry and was not giving any milk.

The children all shed a few tears when Old Broach the cow was killed, for she was a family pet, but the family needed to have something to eat. The cow was butchered the day before Thanksgiving and the next day George’s mother planned a real Thanksgiving feast. — a large roast of meat with potatoes and carrots lay around it. Something the family had not had for years.

However a peculiar odor filled the house as the meal was cooking. Mother said it might have been something on the stove, which now was causing the terrible odor. The table was set and the roast was brought out and how delicious it looked. George’s father first gave a prayer of deep thanks for the many blessing that the family had enjoyed and then he carved the roast, placing a liberal helping of meat, carrots and spuds on each plate. George’s mother took a bite and looked at her husband; he took a taste and looked at the kids.

George took a mouthful and his stomach heaved, – horror of horrors, the taste of rotten onions had permeated every piece of beef. Their cow had not simply fattened up on vegetables, but on rotten onions. Their entire dinner was spoiled and all they had to eat were johnnycakes with nothing to put on them.

Still George observed that though his father was greatly tempted, he did not say any cuss words, but decided on that day, to quit farming and reaffirm his vocation as a Methodist minister.

The Strester family took a moment that could be called a family disaster and turned it into a memory of laughter and joy. It was also turning point in their lives. Their father rediscovered his calling and the family was able to adapt to the changes.

God takes our crisis points, small or large, and turns them into his moments of joy and thanksgiving.

Lord Jesus, thank you for your gifts of grace, love and joy.  Create within me a thankful everyday.

The Call of the Cottonball

Vocation and God’s calling has always been an interest of mine. I blogged about a few times.  How do we discern what God is calling us to do with our lives?  How do young adults discern their career path?   Too often the church has restricted God’s callings to specific Christian ministries like pastors or missionaries.  But God calls us to love our neighbor in such a wide variety of ways.  Here is a post from a college student who is beginning to grasp her calling as a teacher:  Catapulting Cotton Balls.

When I read this blog, I had a strong sense of pride, hope and humility.   I had the strong sense of pride because my daughter is connecting her vocational calling to her Christian faith.  I had a sense of hope because she and many, many other young adults see their vocation as a way of serving the world and not simply a way to make money.  And humility that she is learned this in spite of my sporadic, often absent, parenting skills.   God is truly good.

How have you experienced God’s calling in your life?  In your family life?

Lord Jesus, remind me again today that I am called to love my neighbor.  Call me once again to be your hands, feet, voice and heart in the world.